9. Peck-uliar Penguins


Waddle into the weird world of these peculiar birds! Dive into the how and why penguins act the way they do and learn about different species, their adaptations as a flightless bird, and how they manage to survive!

Photo: By Curiosity Zone

These waddling wonders have quite the personality for being a bird species that doesn’t fly. So since they can’t take flight let's dive deep down into the world of penguins! These aquatic creatures have adapted quite well to a variety of conditions, all while being the best dressed in the animal kingdom in all their tuxedo glory.

Photo: Virtual Antarctica


That tuxedo is not only a sign of great fashion sense, but it is also a method of camouflage known as “countershading”. Countershading is helpful in that they can blend into the water in that their back mimics the color of murky water and their belly blends into the brightness of the surface. That tuxedo is made out of feathers that creates a form of insulation by trapping warm air next to its skin; this is particularly helpful when they generate body heat when swimming around and withstanding harsh winds. Unlike other birds that shed a few feathers at a time, penguins molt all at one time in a process called “the catastrophic molt” It’s definitely a change from most marine mammals that rely on blubber to stay warm.

Moreover, penguins have a special circulatory system called the “countercurrent heat exchange” that allows blood flowing through their flippers and legs transfer body heat to the heart. Their look is complete with their waddling feet and wings that are in the form of flippers which enables them to zip around the depths of the ocean at speeds up to 15-22 mph.

With all that ziggin' and zaggin' underwater penguins ingest quite a bit of seawater, however they have adapted systems for this as well! Penguins have a gland behind their eyes known as the “supraorbital gland” which flushes out the saltwater from their bloodstream. They get rid of it by either their beaks or sneezing.

Photo: Pixshark.com


Penguins are known to be a social species; they hunt, nest and swim in groups. Their groups get particularly impressive when it comes to breeding season in which their numbers can reach the thousands. These massive groupings are called “rookeries”. Not to worry though, they’re able to find their mates via a distinct individual call that enables them to connect with not only their partners but sometimes even their chicks that have gotten lost in the masses. This can be especially important as most penguins will mate with one member of the opposite sex season after season.

The penguin species with the most impressive group count are the Macaroni penguins that have been documented with having 11,654,000 pair. On the other side of the spectrum there are the Galapagos penguin with a documented 6,000-15,000 individuals.

When studying our feathery friends it has been noted that they are not aggressive towards land bound animals (humans included). It is theorized that this is the case as they have few predators on land. Although, that being said the Erect-crested Penguin has been known to be the most temperamental species.


Photo: ZooEarth.com

Lets meet some of our favorite penguin pals!

Name: Adelie

Nest Type: In groups in the open, uses stones to line their nests

Food: Loves Krill

Location: High Antarctic, South Shetland, South Orkney, South Sandwich and Bouvetoya Islands

Bio: These penguins tend to breed in groups of a few dozen to groups in the thousands. The line their nests with rocks to keep their eggs protected from melting water from snow. So keep your eye for these medium-sized, white eye ringed birds as they gather their stones.

Gif: by Nature on PBS

Name: African Penguin

Nest Type: burrow under a bush or rocks

Food: Adores small fish

Location: West Coast of South Africa and Namibia

Bio: When you visit the Vancouver Aquarium these are the friends you see! The African penguins are identified by their loud, donkey-like calls that have led them to them being nicknamed: the Jackass Penguins.

Gif: San Diego Zoo

Name: Chinstrap Penguin

Nest Type: In the open in colonies

Food: Always interested in krill

Location: Antarctic Peninsula, South Orkney, South Shetland and South Sandwich

Bio: The name truly says it all. You can identify these birds by their distinct chinstrap pattern under their black bill. If you find yourself on the hillside slopes or rocky outcrops of the South Shetlands, you may just come across these birds in colonies breeding.

Gif: BBC Planet Earth 2

Name: Emperor

Nest Type: on the sea ice in winter, carry egg on their feet

Food: Wouldn’t say no to fish or squid

Location: South Shetland Islands, Tierra del Fuego, the Falklands, South Sandwich Islands, Kerguelen Island, Heard Island and New Zealand.

Bio: Here are the ever popular Emperor penguins. These are the biggest of the penguin of the penguin species by standing tall at about 1.1meters. These robust birds have white ear patches and grow to have a yellow tinge as they age. When researching these animals it’s notable that the males have the sole responsibility for the 2 months their egg is in incubation-way to step up boys!

Gif: Wiffle Gif

Name: Galapagos

Nest Type: small spaces: burrowing or in crevices in lava

Food: Likes tiny fish

Location: Galapagos Islands

Bio: These little cuties have fairly big bills for their petite frame and a white line around their face. Their small size definitely helps to burrow and dig into tight areas- even into old lave flows!

Gif: Make A Gif.com

If we didn't mention your favorite penguin check out more info here to discover the rest of the species :)


Penguins have evolved to harness many adaptations to survive the array of conditions they inhabit. Here’s to name a few:

-Penguins have the capacity to survive months at a time in the ocean. They come back on land solely to breed or molt.

-Penguins can hunch their head in a way when swimming in order to limit drag when zipping about in the water. Additionally, they press their feet to their tail to steer themselves.

-Penguins have dense bones which helps them to overcome buoyancy.

-It is theorised that to store energy when fasting, penguins will sleep for longer periods of time.

-For those that live in the Antarctic, penguins huddle closely in groups to incubate. This is a process that can help them withstand the harsh conditions of winter.

Questions to ask your Junior Biologists:

1. What about their appearance aids their survival?

They use a special form of camouflage known as countershading to blend into the water; this helps them to hide from predators in the water and on land. Additionally, penguins have a tight coat of feathers that enable them to keep warm when needed without having to use blubber like most mammals in freezing temperatures.

2. Why are penguins so vocal?

As there is typically many penguins in a rookery, it is important for the penguin to tell each other apart via their calls. So having a loud and distinctive call will help you reunite with their mate and even help them keep track of their offspring if they fumble into the hoard of thousands of other penguins.

3. Do all penguins live in Antarctica?

Nope. Penguins have been found in areas outside Antarctica such as New Zealand, Australia and South America. This variety of locations reflect the physical adaptations of the penguins who may not have to withstand cold conditions but must be able to burrow in vegetation or squeeze into crevices of caves.

4. Can penguins fly?

It has been said that penguins can fly underwater. Penguins have cultivated the abiltity to tighten their body to turn themselves into a bullet-like swimmer with user their feet like rudders to guide them. So despite being unable to technically fly in the air, a penguin can swim pretty quickly under water!

See your Jr. Biologists in action here!

Do you have any questions for Club Volunteers or our Coordinator, Jordan? Ask away on our Discussion Board!


Take the What Kind of Penguin Are You? quiz and find your penguin doppelganger.

Have some friends over and watch the acclaimed March of the Penguins to learn a bit more!

Check out these peck-uliar penguin activities to truly get into the spirit!

Learning Objectives

-Associate the physical appearance of penguins with their environment.

-Identify the behavior of penguins that correlates with obtaining daily needs for survival.

-Comprehend the differences between an array of penguin species.

-Acknowledge the differing types of habitats, diets and nesting types penguins exhibit.

-Examine the range of adaptations penguins have accumulated.

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